Pakistan accuses India of plotting ‘false flag operation’ amid border tensions with China

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The allegations came from Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours soared over a tit-for-tat spy dispute. Mr Qureshi said: “The move of the Indian government is a clear attempt to move attention away from the disputed border between India and China and to move it towards Pakistan.”

It is a clear attempt to move attentionfrom the disputed border between India and China and to move it towards Pakistan

Shah Mahmood Qureshi

He claimed India, “after being beaten and embarrassed” by China in brutal Himlayan border clashes which left 20 Indian soldiers dead, was looking for excuses to launch a military operation against Pakistan.

The foreign minister offered no evidence to back up his allegations and there was no immediate comment from officials in India or China.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the disputed Kashmir region, which is claimed in its entirety by both the nations.

India expelled half the staff in Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi yesterday over allegations Pakistani diplomats were “engaged in acts of espionage and maintained dealings with terrorist organisations”.

The expulsions came after two people, identified as drivers for the Indian High Commission, were arrested in Pakistan after an alleged hit-and-run accident involving a pedestrian.

Pakistani police said they found counterfeit currency in their vehicles.

The two were later released and sent back to India.

Islamabad responded by ordering a 50 percent reduction in the Indian diplomatic presence in the Pakistani capital.

Mr Qureshi said: “The Indian opposition is raising questions against them, which they cannot answer.

“So in order to divert attention, they have called our diplomat to the Indian external affairs ministry and demarched him and gave him a note verbale, accusing Pakistani diplomats of engaging in espionage.”

He claimed India’s “behaviour was incredibly unreasonable and in violation of the Vienna Conventions”.

Rajeev Bhatia, a fellow at Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House and a veteran Indian diplomat, said the planned “deep cut” in embassy staff was significant.

He said: “It’s indicative of the dismal condition of the bilateral relationship.”

Former officials in both countries said the move could eventually lead to the closure of the embassies altogether.

Brahma Chellaney, a political analyst at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a former Indian national security adviser, said: “I see a further downsizing embassy strengths of the two countries in the coming months.”

“India is even ready to cut diplomatic ties if things continue the way they are.”

Asif Yasin Malik, a retired Pakistani general and former defence secretary, said relations were at an all-time low, outside of the three major wars the two countries have fought since independence from Britain in 1947.

He said: “They are as bad as they can be. It is possible we will break diplomatic relations altogether.”

Tensions have been high after India in August scrapped Muslim-majority Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and imposed a major security clampdown last year.

Indian government forces have also been conducting numerous military operations in Indian-administered Kashmir since a nationwide coronavirus lockdown was imposed in late March, killing dozens of fighters.

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New Delhi regularly blames Islamabad for arming and training rebels before sending them across the border into Indian-administered Kashmir.

Pakistan denies the charges and hit back today by accusing New Delhi of funding militant groups.

Foreign ministry spokesman Aisha Farooqi said: “India has fomented terrorism inside Pakistan by providing training, financial and material support to terrorist groups.”

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